If I were going to pick a starting point for this whole process, I would say it all began with beer. I realize it’s a pretty absurd notion to suggest that you can pick a starting point for a development that has been informed and shaped by so many factors along the way, but if I were going to pick just one, beer seems to have been the woman in the pains of child birth, if you will.
The first year that we were married, Mike was starting to become very interested in craft beer, so I decided it would be a thoughtful and creative gift to give him a homebrewing kit for Christmas. And as I pride myself in coming up with thoughtful and creative gifts, I was pretty proud of myself on this one. (Never mind that I didn’t realize that the kit of ingredients I had picked up at Brown Derby International did not include any of the equipment necessary for brewing, which, to his delight, Mike then had to collect after Christmas. I suppose I had seen too many Mr. Beer Kits to know better.)
For a few years, it was a hobby he enjoyed unsuspectingly. He brewed several times a year, playing with but limited by brewing with malt extracts. Those who brew understand the increased control and creativity one has when mashing rather than using extracts. Moving into the more advanced practice of mashing (put simplistically, when you make your own extract)—single infusion mashing, step-mashing, decoction mashing—meant a whole new world of “playing jazz” with homebrewing, as Mike affectionately describes. Like cooking, or maybe as a form of cooking, homebrewing entails a dynamic of artistry. I think we both learned the meaning of “artisan” because of Mike’s interest in homebrewing.
Before long, he was endlessly experimenting: Belgians with beet sugar and carrot sugar that he had made out of veggies from our farmshare box; drying figs from a friend’s tree, roasting chestnuts, and making pear sugar for a Christmas beer he styled “Figgy Pudding”; taking the first stab at a gueuze by blending four lambics that ranged from 16 months to 4 months old.
The appreciation for and practice of homebrewing as a creative project fed our growing convictions that favor artisanship over consumerism, patience for excellence over expedience with shoddiness. It has been the most accessible, constant expression of a broader conviction we are beginning to live into. So, in that way, I would call it the starting point.